Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Chris Bragg
MusicWeb International, March 2008

Julia Brown continues the Naxos Buxtehude series with this new volume, once again recorded on Martin Pasi’s remarkable dual-temperament instrument at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Cecilia in Omaha, Nebraska.

I have to say that I have warmed to Brown’s Buxtehude playing since her first volume, featuring the Brombaugh organ in Eugene, where the playing didn’t entirely convince me. Here I find her feeling for affect (rhetorically conceived), rhythmic freedoms, beautiful touch and exquisite attention to details of articulation highly beautiful. Once again, though, I am left bemused by certain registration choices. The prominent quint in the second fugue of BuxWV 158, (is it really just 8’and 3’?) and the gap registration with the sesquialtera (again no 4’ I think) at the beginning of ‘Gelobet seist du’ are, in my opinion, really wrong. The unusual registrations employed in the Canzonas are perhaps less clear cut. The relationship between registration and affect is always subjective, and, looking at it from that point of view, I can understand the use of the Praestant 8’ with tremulant in BuxWV 173, and even the trumpet registration in BuxWV 167. The Italianate stylistic roots of such compositions have led to the use of the 4’ flute becoming almost cliché after all, (it makes its ‘expected’ appearance in BuxWV 170). The aforementioned registration in BuxWV 173 seems, naturally, more appropriate for durezze e ligature than for a canzona. But, perhaps most importantly, Brown’s way of playing in both these pieces is intelligently ‘keyed in’ to the registration she chooses.

The disc also features two lengthy sets of variations which are obviously harpsichord pieces. It seems curious to include them, but Brown uses them to show off the organ and the experience is far from unpleasant. BuxWV 163 is also a harpsichord piece, I think, but is more often played on the organ.

The star, of course, is the organ itself. I have written here before about my growing fascination for this instrument, it is surely among the finest modern organs in the world. The opening bars of the disc, played on a sole 8’ Praestant leads the listener to a sound world which could literally belong to any of the great surviving Northern European masterpieces of the 17th and early 18th centuries. The reeds are astoundingly beautiful. Both the meantone and ‘well’ temperaments are employed on the disc. I am in awe of such an obviously modern instrument (in conception at least) with such an immense expressive potential. Can anyone in Europe claim anything similar?

Whatever my subjective feelings about some of Brown’s musical choices, I can’t help admitting that I have enjoyed her recent discs more than any of the other new Buxtehude recordings to emerge during the Buxtehude year.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, February 2008

This is Volume 7 in Naxos’s complete survey of Buxtehude’s organ music, begun as long ago as 2001. Like Volumes 5 and 6, it is played by Julia Brown on the remarkable Martin Pasi organ in Omaha Cathedral. I was generally impressed with Volume 6, as I am again with this new recording. To save unnecessary repetition, please follow the hyperlink to that earlier review.

Like Volume 5, the front cover advertises a selection of Præludia, Chorale Fantasias and Chorale Preludes, a goodly variety of pieces including two sets of variations on dance tunes, one of them on a sarabande and the other a set of eight variations on a courant zimble. You may be as puzzled as me as to what a courant zimble is – and Keith Anderson’s otherwise very fine notes don’t explain it, other than to say that it is a courante, which is pretty obvious: I already knew that a courante was a dance form. I think the answer is that zimble is merely a capricious form of simple.

The use of a modern instrument is no handicap when the organ in question is playable in both well-tempered tuning and in ¼ comma meantone, making it ideal for music both before and after the time of Bach. I very much like the sound which this instrument makes and, as on Volume 6, the recording captures it very well. My colleague Chris Bragg gave a detailed description of this remarkable organ and its capabilities in hisreview of Volume 5 , a review which also contains hyperlinks to the website of Martin Pasi, the organ’s creator, and to the reviews of volumes 1-4 of this series. The booklet contains a full specification of the organ.

One of the pieces on this recording, the Canzona in G, BuxWV170, also features on the sixth and final volume of Bine Bryndorf’s recording of Buxtehude’s Complete Organ Works on Naxos’s sister label, Dacapo. As with the works on that CD which overlap Brown’s Volume 6, Bryndorf is noticeably faster – 3:41 against Brown’s 4:28. As usual, timings tell only part of the story, but they are consistent with my general feeling that Bryndorf is the more agile, the lighter-fingered performer. Where Bryndorf emphasises the dance-like elements in the music, Brown is more meditative and reminds us more of Bach’s debt to Buxtehude. This should not be taken to mean that Bryndorf skates over the music oblivious to its deeper qualities or that Brown is slow and stodgy: both are thoroughly convincing in their own terms. Neither player seems to feel that Buxtehude’s famous Stylus Phantasticus – the phrase prominently displayed on the front of the Dacapo CD – means pulling the music about to make it artificially ‘exciting’.

I listened first to Brown’s version of the Canzona in G, to judge it on its own terms, before turning to Bryndorf’s account. I found Brown’s playing and chosen registration light and airy, bringing out the lyrical qualities of the piece so well that I found it hard to imagine that any performance could do greater justice to these qualities. If Bryndorf does, perhaps, find just that extra degree of magic in the piece, there is not a great deal in it – and I actually found myself preferring Brown’s registration in the opening bars. With equally helpful ambience and equally good recordings, in tennis terms I suppose the score is ‘deuce’.

In the rest of the music the situation remains much as I described it in my earlier review. There is plenty of variety in the programme, the registration is well chosen throughout and the playing deft. The performance and recording allow the music to speak for itself, with no unpleasant surprises. 

Track 5, Nun lob, mein Seel, is based on the German Magnificat. Two other pieces based on this tune were included in Volume 6. Since this is different from the Latin plainchant setting with which listeners may be more familiar, it would have been particularly valuable to have had the tune printed in the booklet, especially when Brown’s performance stresses the underlying theme so effectively.

Of the pieces recorded here, the score of one only is available free online, track 2, the Præludium BuxWV138. The Canzona in G, BuxWV170, is also available but only in a transcription for four brass instruments.

Keith Anderson’s notes inevitably duplicate some of the material from earlier volumes; otherwise, they are excellent.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2007

The myth that Johann Sebastian Bach once walked 200 miles to hear Dietrich Buxtehude play the organ is still often quoted. That it originally found credibility verifies the high esteem that Buxtehude enjoyed as the founder of the German organ tradition. He was certainly not German by birth and probably came from Denmark with a date of around 1637, but he dedicated his life to working in Lubeck, a centre of musical excellence from which he could exert a powerful influence on German music. As a performer he appears to have had few equals at the time, and while his compositions were large in number - mainly in the field of church cantatas - it is his organ works that have carried his name through to the present day. As I have said in previous reviews of this ongoing series, his works can sound boringly academic, as we hear in the overlong stop-go Fantasia, Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, and sadly the disc does not contain any of his vibrant Toccatas. So here we have to rest content with the charm of his Preludiums; the power of the choral, Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren; the short Canzonetta and the chirping of the organ in the Aria with three variations. The Martin Pasi organ in Omaha, Nabraska, is a delightful instrument, though the authentic period tuning will fall strangely on some ears.  There are points where I miss the fluidity I have enjoyed in previous Julia Brown albums, but she obviously enjoys playing Buxtehude.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group